Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Depressing regressing at Justice

When Michael Gove was unexpectedly appointed Lord Chancellor I am chastened to admit I was among some lawyers who instinctively deprecated the development.  It was Francis Fitzgibbon QC, the new and welcome chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, who reminded us that we of all people should avoid rushing to judgement.

In the event Mr Gove showed some real promise and some unexpected symptoms of reforming zeal as the months wore on.  By the time of his hubristically inglorious dismissal from government he had succeeded in reversing almost every single disastrous policy of his predecessor.  In fact many observers were looking forward with some enthusiasm to see what policy of his own he would formulate.

Problem solving courts were a promising possiblity.  Meaningful and innovative prison reform seemed to be right at the top of the agenda.  A complete newcomer to the justice system seemed intent on mastering his brief and applying his intelligence and energies to addressing some of the most intractable problems bedevilling rehabilitation.  Just one year in the job and the Brexit bombshell threatens to derail the whole programme.

Unsurprisingly given their history and with perhaps genuine distate for his machinations, less Machiavellian more Blackadderian, Mrs May decided there was no room in her cabinet for Mr Gove.  Thus the poor benighted justice system has been presented with its third leader in not as many years.  This time I held my tongue.  Liz Truss should have a chance to prove herself.  Judge a Lady Chancellor by her actions not others' words.

Unfortunately, however, today's performance before Parliament's Justice Committee suggests little cause for optimism about the prospects for justice.  The dreaded and cliched political anxiety about being soft on crime
had alread put paid to overhaul of the courts.  Now it appears any meaningful prison reform may also be off the table.  And back on it is the government's dead cat policy the British Bill of Rights.  Any time, energy and money spent on this pointless exercise in window dressing is a diversion from addressing the real and urgent issues facing justice.

Alex Cavendish has already excoriated the new Lord Chancellor's showing today, I for one hope his pessimism is unfounded.